November 27, 2018
The best ways to protect your property rights:
I have a client in the city of Portsmouth who has been tied up in the red tape of the permitting process, so, I thought I would share with you this story and advise you on how to protect your property rights.
A letter that was submitted to the city by a neighbor stating, “The existing house was constructed in 1945, with a total living space of 1,503 square feet. The proposed home totals 5,522 square feet, increasing the living area by over 3-1/2 time that of the existing home.” Unfortunately, this was incorrect information that was then printed in the newspaper.
To clarify the issue at hand, the home currently has a LIVING area of 1,503 square feet, and a GROSS area of 3,949 square feet. The proposed home would have a LIVING area of 3,494 square feet, and a GROSS area of 4,983 square feet.
I encourage all homeowners to be educated about your home, as well as your entire neighborhood. Simply go to Vision Appraisals > NH> Portsmouth > enter Address. Vision Appraisal will provide you with your lot size, footprint, living and gross area, your Appraisal value, as well as your “Grade” (A-F) which determines what your taxes will be.
To determine your lot coverage, go to: City of Portsmouth New Hampshire > Assessor > Maps: there is a wealth of information located here. The GIS Maps will show how the City is viewing your property lines. Unless your property has been surveyed and registered with the city, this is how property lines are determined by the Planning Department. These property lines are used to determine your lot size. In order to figure out your lot coverage: Divide your footprint by the Lot Size x 100. In the Portsmouth case the proposed footprint is: 2,945 divided by the lot size of 0.36 Acre (15,681 SF) x 100 = 18.9%. In this neighborhood, 25% lot coverage is allowed. If you want to do anything to your home and your existing house is outside of setbacks, or your proposed project is over the allowed lot coverage for your neighborhood, your lot is deemed “Non-conforming” and you will need a variance. The home we are discussing here does not need a variance, they are within all setbacks and under lot coverage.
The recent addition of the demolition committee (formed under the intention of preventing historic structures being razed – a worthy cause) unfortunately has brought ambiguity, tension, and risk to projects in the city. A project that requires demolition, regardless of scope, is required to place a placard on the structure and advertise in two newspapers for 30 days announcing the intended demolition. Any resident may then file a complaint stopping the project. At that moment the property owner, who has met all of the city’s building requirements, as the owners of this home have, must defend themselves at their own expense in the “court” of the demolition committee – all as a result of an unsubstantiated complaint. Referencing the Portsmouth property, the house is neither historic nor is it in the HDC; it is in complete disrepair and neglect (black mold, pet waste, lead and asbestos). The complaint by the neighbor references issues outside of the demolition committee’s purview. Giving attention to each and every individual who complains will cause a gridlock in our system, as well as raise taxes and construction costs. Clearly, this is one example of the danger of an un-checked committee threatening our collective property rights.
We should protect the character of Portsmouth and limit the size / scale of new or renovated properties. We also need to protect personal property rights. In order to achieve this, the ordinances and procedures need to be clearly documented and communicated for the entire construction approval process. We can all function within the structure of clearly written ordinances, but arbitrary committees threaten our property rights. It is my hope that ordinances will be written to reflect the way that we want our city to look and function as a community.
I encourage all homeowners in the city who are thinking about selling, renovating or building to educate yourself about the complex process!